Although the Mayoral candidates were not there, this was a very well attended event by over 250 people, with standing room only. The main speakers and their key points are summarised below followed by Chris’ personal conclusions. The next event of interest is the Mayoral Hustings on housing, infrastruture and growth on 16 February. This is a paid event but I’m sure there will be a transcript or video of proceedings.
James Stevens of the Housebuilders’ Federation
He said they would like to work more strategically but they can’t because it has become very political. He made the point that unmet housing needs is not a reason to build on Green Belt (GB). The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says, “Unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the GB”.Paul Minor of the CPRE (Campaign for the Protection of Rural England)
In summary, he said, evidence of a housing need does not trump the GB.
He emphasised that urban sprawl is a big problem and the GB protects against it. And politicians should note that a survey in Aug 2015 showed that two thirds of the public support the continued protection of the GB.Tom Papworth of the Adam Smith Institute
He said there is scope to expand housing outside the M25 in places like Basildon (with plans for 9,100 housing units), Brentwood (2,900); Epping (1,250) and Rochford (around 2,250?),
Furthermore, the theoretical housing targets bear no resemblance to what is being met in practice. So the need to build on the GB is not proven since we should invest in brownfield sites to build all that the builders can cope with in practice.
There are plenty of brownfield sites available: in 2001-09 only 35% of available brownfield plots were developed (166,000 out of 469,000 available). The “Further Alterations to the London Plan” (FALP) – published March 2015 – showed there are enough brownfield sites in London for 300,000 dwellings plus business sites for 568,000 jobs.
He ended by asking, why not build more intensely in those places? For example, the Inner / West End of London is full of good quality 3-4 storey high terraced housing that sells for over £2m each – why not do this in outer London and leave the green areas in between?
The latest FALP targets the Ilford Opportunity Area (85 ha “in and around the town centre”) for a minimum of 5,000 homes. Can these not be of such high quality as command premium prices to subsidise affordable and social housing?
He said there is a need to house an additional 2 million people in London in the next 25 years. This requires 800,000 new homes. But we can meet only 600,000 on brown sites.Debate
37% of the GB is actually intensive agricultural land – with little amenity value or ‘wildlife’ due to use of pesticides. He described it as more or less barren land with no public access. He suggested we should therefore build on this. (The Institute’s recent report suggested there is such room for 16,000 homes between Chadwell Heath and Chingford – running through the Fairlop Plain.)
But why make farmers rich, he asked. Land with development permission is valued 100 times that of agricultural land. The benefit should be shared with the community.
Later, he suggested that we should give priority to housing over golf courses.
There was a debate as to whether to plan for people to live close to central London as suggested by the Adam Smith Institute – within 10 minutes walk of transport links; or provide for better commuting into London from outside the M25 so people can live in the country.
I came away with thoughts that:
- Although I was concerned about much of the Adam Smith approach to infilling and building more and more suburbs within the M25, I sympathise with the argument that intensively farmed land on the Fairlop Plain doesn’t do much for anyone and I too regard it as more or less barren land of no practical use for residents. But it does prevent urban sprawl!
- If it is absolutely essential to use the Fairlop Plain to meet housing needs and / or to raise capital by Council asset sales, I’d suggest this. Rather than build over the cherished sports and social hub of Oakfield, replace the rather poor quality and little used golf course opposite Fairlop Station. I know it is part of the GB but such development would not interfere with residents’ enjoyment of the limited local open green space since it is not overlooked and provides no vista. It would not lead to further encroachment of the GB since is bounded to the east by Fairlop Waters. Golfers can surely go to the Hainault Golf Course which is merely a couple of miles away at the other end of Forest Road.
- If we had a Neighbourhood Plan for Barkingside, drawn up by local residents, would that not be a better proposal?